Fall of Berlin Wall: 30 years on, German MPs to decide fate of vast Stasi archive

Deputies will vote on whether to integrate the Stasi records and its 111 kilometres of files collected by the hated secret police into the Federal Archives.

Fall of Berlin Wall: 30 years on, German MPs to decide fate of vast Stasi archive
Files at the Rostock Branch Office of the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Files (BStU). Photo: DPA

Access to the files would be kept open, said Roland Jahn, Special Commissioner for the Stasi Records.

The measure is part of a bill to restructure the archive's management.

Jahn said the move, set for summer 2021, would secure the future of the files as the national archive offers necessary expertise and infrastructure for preserving and digitizing documents.

Once among the world's most tightly controlled states, communist East Germany (GDR) deployed Stasi police and used citizen informers to spy on the population, documenting their movements and actions in the millions of files found today in the archive.

READ ALSO: Why Germany will never forget the Stasi era of mass surveillance 

Critics of the restructuring plan fear the institution would be swallowed up by the broader Federal Archive, leading to a cut in funding and ultimately hurting the crucial service it provides in the process of coming to terms with the former East Germany's communist past.

Hubertus Knabe, a historian and former head of the memorial at the Stasi's prison in the Hohenschönhausen district, warned that “what will change is that the largest institution for dealing with the GDR past will no longer exist after 2021”.

That would have “consequences that are not negligible for all educational programmes” on the issue, he wrote in Welt daily.

Werner Schulz, a former dissident who is now a Green party MEP, said the move was “premature”, voicing fears that “a lid will be put on history here”.

Inside the former Stasi prison in the Hohenschönhausen district, today a memorial site. Photo: DPA

'Fit for the future'

In the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stasi employees rushed to destroy their secret files, initially shredding them but as the machines broke down under the strain, they began to tear documents by hand.

The waste was to be pulped or burnt but “citizen committees” stormed Stasi offices across East Germany, seizing millions of files along with 15,500 bags of torn-up documents.

Following reunification in 1990, a Special Commissioner for the Stasi Records was swiftly appointed to safeguard the hoard while also ensuring that people have access to files that concern them.

READ ALSO: Stasi documents trove released online

The Aufarbeitungsverein Bürgerkomitee 15. Januar, an association that helps Stasi victims come to terms with the past, said the independent status of the commissioner and the archives must never be compromised.

Calling on parliament to suspend the decision on Thursday, it warned that placing the records within the Federal Archives risks integrating them under a political structure that ultimately answers to the government.

“There are fears that information on oversight as well as the viewing of the files” could be subject to political whims, warned the organisation named after the January 15th, 1990 date when the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin was stormed.

Embarrassing information could be kept under wraps, it argued. 

But Jahn said the changes were principally aimed at making the archive “fit for the future as we can tap the expertise, technology and resources under the roof of the Federal Archives”.

Asked if the restructuring was the wrong move on a key anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jahn told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “Quite the opposite.”

“We are sending the message that on the 30th anniversary of the peaceful revolution, we have this symbol of the peaceful revolution — that is, the access to the files and the possibility to use them — and that is something that we are securing permanently.

“This is a step into the future. We want to do away with the fixation on the topic of state security. We don't want an agency for absolute truth… rather we want a Stasi archive that makes documents readily available, so that a discussion can take place in society,” he said.

READ ALSO: How ordinary people smashed the Stasi

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.